Law Firm Associate Development ProgramWhile the practice of law continues to undergo many changes, one thing will not change. Law firms will always need energy, experience and skill to survive. Smart firms understand that developing this type of firm starts with actually hiring the right attorneys.  And it continues with effective training, evaluation programs and compensation. Law firms with strong associate development programs will develop and retain their leaders and will be better positioned to handle future challenges.


Establishing a great associate development program involves a committed effort, the right systems and the right people. The infographic below lays out the necessary components of an effective associate development program. The links to the articles below can help law firms to put this plan into action.

Law Firm Recruiting, Lateral Hiring

Lateral hiring normally makes the top 5 list of priorities for law firms desiring growth. Some firms follow a process for lateral hiring that focuses on preserving its culture and values.  Other firms believe that it is more important to break down entry barriers and seek laterals at an expedited pace.

Regardless of a firm’s approach to lateral hiring, a process that is too rigid will scuttle most deals.  A process that is too loose normally ends in unmet expectations – or worse. To temper these extremes, I recommend that firms create a process that includes the creativity of art and the discipline of science.

Specifically, firms desiring to improve their lateral hiring success should consider the following factors:

Cultural attributes

A firm with a strong history of successful results is likely to maintain its dominance in a lateral transaction, but even these firms may benefit from the thinking of lateral hires. Firms that are most successful are open to incorporating the ideas of lateral hires into their culture. Having just evaluated the firm from a buyer’s point of view, lateral hires are positioned to provide a firm with valuable external market insights.

Economic attributes

It is important to understand how a lateral transaction is supposed to be accretive to the firm. Some firms believe that laterals must contribute actual profit to the firm while others are satisfied with help covering fixed overhead. Laterals may also be accretive in terms of new client and or new practice area opportunities. As for timing, I recommend that firms plan on 18-24 months before any real economic benefits are derived.

Recruiting attributes

Firms that are actively seeking laterals are more inclined to engage the services of a recruiter while firms that are in a more passive mode are more likely to be patient and work through their existing network of contacts. Regardless of whether a firm is in an active or passive mode, it is essential that they have a clearly defined approach to engaging a lateral when the opportunity arises. Any ambivalence or ambiguity on the part of the firm will likely scare laterals off.

Implementation and follow up

It is essential to incorporate laterals into the mainstream of the firm as soon as possible. As with a new client procurement, consistent execution is what separates the good from the great. Well executed implementation not only increases the potential for success of an existing lateral transaction, but the ability to have previously recruited laterals assist in the courting process for new laterals is a real edge.

Results evaluation and course correction

There is much to be learned from objectively reviewing the results of a lateral transaction. Skipping this process is a missed opportunity to improve future transactions and to make adjustments to the current situation if necessary. A predefined evaluation process and system for making adjustments will remove the emotion from these decisions and will have the added benefit of encouraging laterals be more candid about their expected future performance.

Lateral hiring will never be without risk. The consequences of a bad deal may include economic loss, morale loss and damage to the firm’s reputation. Creating a process that considers the attributes described above will help to increase a firm’s likelihood of success.


Law Firm Recruiting, Lateral Hiring

Most law firms need more talent to implement a transition plan successfully. Prospective recruiting and lateral hiring strategies are often needed. A well-communicated plan with incentives for those who actively recruit has the potential to transform a firm immediately.

The goals of the recruiting process are as follows:

  1. Attract good fit laterals;
  2. Attract good fit new graduates; and
  3. Manage expectations.

To accomplish these goals, an expedited recruiting process and system of rewards are necessary.

Recruiting Process:

Lateral hires with business

Ensuring that the recruiting process is thorough and moves quickly are two key factors. Most good laterals have several opportunities and the firm that can evaluate a transaction quickly and offer a transparent economic deal has an edge.

Firms must efficiently address the following questions when considering a potential lateral hire:

  • Opportunity costs and benefits;
  • Impact on revenue and cost and profit per hour;
  • Compensation, and equity slotting if appropriate; and
  • Impact on cash flow and current year earnings.

Creating a streamlined process that can simulate compensation post admission (equity) is essential. Smart laterals will want to see current compensation levels of current partners with similar levels of profitability.

New Lawyers and lateral without business

In some instances, attracting the right lawyers to service the firm’s current clients can match the impact of a lateral hire with business. Often these contributions are overlooked because they happen over time and with less fanfare.  Many firms also only hire when someone leaves, and there is an immediate need. When this occurs, and no suitable replacement is available, law firms are often forced to rely on lesser talented or lesser trained lawyers to service client work. Eventually, a permanent decline in the capability of the firm can result. To guard against these risks we recommend the following:

  • Hiring in advance of need;
  • Accept that not everyone is in the right role and upgrade; and
  • Appropriately delegate at the partner level to create opportunities.

Recruiting in advance of need requires an honest evaluation of the firm’s current staffing capacity and capability.  It also requires a budgeting process that allows for a level of prospective hiring.

Compensation and Incentives:

At the equity partner level, most firms consider recruiting a responsibility of partnership and do not compensate for recruiting successes. The benefits of the right lateral hires and new lawyers are often significant. Additionally, those who recruit another attorney to join the firm are more inclined to also stay with the firm.

For these reasons, we recommend that firms consider compensating for all recruiting contributions at every level.  The value of attracting quality lawyers to the firm include:

  • Profitability contributions;
  • Creating competition to drive lawyer performance;
  • Longevity;
  • Capability increases; and
  • Reputational benefits.

Recognizing that recruiting successes can provide substantial economic and cultural benefits improves the chances of creating a high- performance firm.  Favorable market perceptions regarding the trajectory of the firm are invaluable.

For more insight into developing a strong law firm recruiting process, visit PerformLaw’s Law Firm Best Practices blog: Click here.